With longtime Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby having signed a two-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks in free agency, it is now appropriate to look at the highlights of Holtby’s career with the Capitals. Since his first NHL appearance in November 2010, the former fourth-round pick accumulated an impressive resume in a Washington sweater. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks back at his most cherished time in Washington.
In 2006, with longtime net stalwart Olaf Kolzig turning 36, the Washington Capitals began preparations for the future, drafting Russian goalie Semyon Varlamov in the first-round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft with the 23rd overall pick, and Czech goaltender Michal Neuvirth in the second round with the 34th overall pick. The hope from Capitals’ brass was that one of them two might prove to be the eventual replacement for Kolzig. In the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the team drafted a young goaltender from Saskatchewan, Canada, named Braden Holtby in the fourth-round with 93rd overall pick. Holtby was the tenth goalie chosen in the draft that year.
Richard Wolowics/Getty Images North America
Holtby returned to his junior hockey team, the Saskatoon Blades, for the 2008-09 season and posted a 40-16-4 record, a 2.64 Goals-Against Average and a .910 Save Percentage. He appeared in seven playoff games with the Blades and once his playoff season was over, joined the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears for the remainder of their playoff run, with the Bears winning their 10th Calder Cup.
The plan was for Holtby to start the 2009-10 season as the projected number one goalie for the Caps’ East Coast Hockey League affiliate South Carolina Stingrays. However, due to an injury to Neuvirth, he instead started the season with the Bears. Holtby started the first two games of the year and gave up just one goal in his first game and recorded a shutout in his second game, which earned him additional playing time in Hershey before getting sent back down to the ECHL. Ultimately, Holtby spent just 12 games with the Stingrays as a result of his impressive play with Hershey and the other goalies in the Capitals organization (Jose Theodore, Varlamov, and/or Neuvirth) struggling with injuries. Ultimately, Holtby played in 37 regular season games with Hershey (the most of any Bears netminder that season) posting a 25-8-0-2 record and Save Percentage of .917, with a Goals-Against Average of 2.32. He also played in three playoff games as the Bears’ won their second consecutive, and AHL record 11th Calder Cup.
Holtby returned to Hershey for the 2010-11 season and played in 30 games, posting a 17-10-0-5 record, a Save Percentage of .920, and a Goals-Against Average of 2.29.
First NHL Game and Win – November 4, 2010
At the time of his NHL debut, Holtby was serving as the backup to Neuvirth in Washington. He had been recalled from the Bears but had yet to see game action in a Capitals sweater. However, this scenario changed on November 4, 2010. The Capitals held a 3-0 lead over the Boston Bruins after two periods. By the middle of the third period, the Bruins had tied the game, leading to then-Head Coach Bruce Boudreau opting for a goalie change. Holtby was put in play in place of Neuvirth, and eventually led the team to a 5-3 victory. Holtby made four saves on four shots in 10 minutes of work to earn his first NHL win in his first appearance.
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First NHL Start — November 7, 2011
Just two days after his first NHL appearance, Holtby got his first NHL start in the Capitals’ next game, at home against the Philadelphia Flyers, who were one of their main rivals in the Eastern Conference. The Caps won this game 3-2 in overtime on a goal by defenseman Mike Green. Holtby had earned his second NHL win and a record of 2-0-0 in the Capitals’ fourth consecutive victory.
Relieving Neuvirth After Eye Injury – March 8, 2011
On March 8, 2011, the Caps were playing in a road game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who at that time were battling for first place in the Southeast Division with the Capitals. Holtby, serving as the backup once again to Neuvirth, had not taken the ice in a live game in 11 games. Early in the game, a shot from Nate Thompson of Tampa Bay had ricocheted off Neuvirth’s mask and knocked a piece of metal into his eye. Neuvirth played for the remainder of the first period but then left the game as he was unable to see properly.
Holtby ended the game for the second period with the score 1-0 in favor of Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay peppered Holtby with shots during a period in which they out-chanced the Caps but were stonewalled by Holtby. Capitals forward Alexander Semin scored the game-tying goal with less than five minutes to go in regulation. The Caps ultimately won 2-1 on a shootout goal by Alex Ovechkin, giving Holtby his first shootout win in the NHL. For the game, Holtby made 21 saves in 45 minutes of play and stopped all three of Tampa Bay’s shooters. The Caps passed Tampa Bay in the standings and were now in sole possession of first place in the Southeast.
First Shutout – March 10, 2011
Just two days after beating the Tampa Bay Lighting, the Caps played a home game against the Edmonton Oilers. The Caps won this game 5-0. After a scoreless first period, Holtby made an important save about five minutes into the second period, stopping Edmonton forward Andrew Cogliano on a shorthanded breakaway. Holtby ultimately earned his first NHL shutout, making 22 saves in the process in his eighth NHL start. It was also Washington’s sixth straight victory which, at the time, tied a season-high.
Becoming the Number One in Net – 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs
On April 5, 2012, the Caps were playing the Florida Panthers, in a game in which they were not only trying to earn a playoff spot, but possibly win the Southeast Division title. The Panthers at the time, led the division. Michal Neuvirth had been tabbed the starter that day with Holtby backing up. The team’s other goaltender, Tomas Vokoun was out with a groin injury. During the second period, Marco Sturm of the Panthers collided with Neuvirth, falling onto his leg and resulting in an injury. Holtby, as had happened in the past, was called in in relief. The Capitals ultimately won the game 4-2 and clinched a playoff spot, entering the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the sixth seed. Holtby was now the Caps’ number one goalie by default, with both Vokoun and Neuvirth sidelined with injuries.
The Capitals were matched against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, who had finished first in the Northeast Division. The Caps managed to dethrone the Bruins in a very tough, seven-game series which featured four games decided in overtime. In that series, Holtby made 233 saves, giving up 15 goals, and finishing with a Save Percentage of .939. The Capitals advanced to play the New York Rangers, who had won the Presidents’ Trophy with the best record in the regular season, in the second round of the postseason. The second round series against New York was another closely fought series, though the Caps came up short as a result of a subpar offensive performance. In this series, Holtby made 196 saves, gave up 15 goals, and had a Save Percentage of .928. His overall totals for the 2012 postseason were: 429 saves on 459 shot attempts for a Save percentage of .935 and a Goals-Against average of 1.95, matching up well against both Tim Thomas of Boston and Henrik Lundqvist of New York, both of whom had won Vezina Trophies during their careers.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America
Fight With Ray Emery – November 1, 2013
On November 1, 2013, the Capitals were the visitors in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wachovia Center (now Wells Fargo Center). The Caps went into this contest without the services of captain Alex Ovechkin, who had an injured shoulder. Holtby was tabbed as the starter for then-Head Coach Adam Oates, while Steve Mason started opposite for the Flyers. The Capitals started slowly in the game, not recording a shot on goal until there were five minutes left in the first period. However, Center Nicklas Backstrom scored with 2 ½ minutes left in the period to put the Capitals ahead by one heading into the first intermission. Early in the second period, the Caps scored three goals in rapid succession which prompted the Flyers to pull Mason and replace him with backup Ray Emery. The Capitals added two more goals late in the second period, the last one a power play goal after a fight between noted pugilist Steve Downie of the Flyers and the Capitals’ Aaron Volpatti, which resulted in Downie getting an additional instigator penalty and a misconduct. At this point, the Caps now led 6-0 at the end of two period, and added another power play goal early in third period. Soon afterwards, all hell broke loose. First, Capitals’ right wing Tom Wilson and Flyers forward Wayne Simmons dropped the gloves, which was followed by Emery skating towards Holtby at the opposite end of rink. While Holtby was clearly unwilling to engage his fellow netminder, Emery lunged and grabbed him, and Holtby reluctantly engaged, though he was outmatched by Emery. Multiple other players on both teams also skirmished. Once all penalties were sorted out, in addition to the fighting penalties for all the fighters, Emery also earned a goalie leaving the crease penalty, an instigator penalty, a 10-minute game misconduct penalty, and a game misconduct penalty, while Holtby received a fighting major. The final score ended up as 7-0.
Holtby Gets Win No. 50 – December 7, 2013
On December 7, 2013, Holtby earned the 50th win of his NHL career in a home game against the Nashville Predators, a 5-2 decision that was bolstered by Holtby making 34 saves to reach the half-century mark in victories.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America
Victory No. 100 – April 5, 2015
On April 5, 2013, Holtby reached a major milestone with his 100th victory of his NHL career against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. This win marked Holtby’s 40th win of the year, one shy of the franchise record. He became the fastest goaltender in franchise history to reach the milestone and was also the first goalie in 15 years to reach the 40 win milestone. The former fourth-round pick recorded 35 saves in the decision.
Co-Record Holder For Franchise Wins in a Season – April 8, 2015
On April 8, 2015 Holtby started in net for the Capitals in a contest against the Boston Bruins. The Capitals scored two goals before the first period was even halfway over and added an additional goal near the end of the second period which proved to be the final score. This marked Holtby’s 41st win of the season, which tied the franchise record set previously by franchise legend Olaf Kolzig. Holtby recorded 27 saves in the effort, his third shutout of the Bruins. The 3-0 victory also gave him his ninth shutout of the season, which tied him with Jim Carey for shutouts in a season in Capitals history.
Franchise Record For Wins in a Season – March 15, 2016
On March 15, 2016, Holtby won his 42nd game of the 2015-16 regular season, which broke the franchise record for wins originally set by Kolzig, and tied by Holtby himself only a season prior. In this game the Capitals, playing at home, beat the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 in overtime on a goal by Alex Ovechkin.
Tying the NHL Record For Wins in A Single Season – April 9, 2016
On April 9, 2016, the Capitals played the St. Louis Blues in the second-to-last game of the 2015-16 regular season at Scottrade Center, beating them 5-1. While the game featured a hat trick by captain Alex Ovechkin that helped him reach the 50-goal threshold, Holtby was the big story of the game, as he won his 48th game of the regular season, tying the National Hockey League record originally set by New Jersey Devils legend Martin Brodeur during the 2006-2007 season. Brodeur, an Assistant General Manager with the Blues at the time, was on-hand to personally congratulate Holtby on the victory.
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No. 70 Wins Number 150 – October 15, 2016
On October 15. 2016, the Capitals hosted the New York Islanders in their home opener in the second game of the 2016-17 regular season, a contest they won by a score of 2-1 on two goal by forward Daniel Winnik. Holtby recorded 21 saves on 22 shots, reaching the 150-win threshold and becoming the third-fastest goalie to reach the milestone, doing so in 246 games. The only players to achieve the milestone earlier were Montreal Canadiens great Ken Dryden (241 games) and Andy Moog (245 games).
Holtby Gets Win Number 200 — November 10, 2017
On November 10, 2017, Holtby won the 200th game of his NHL career against the Capitals’ archrival Pittsburgh Penguins, who had come to Capital One Arena only to be outplayed 4-1. Holtby made 27 saves in the game, including from many shots at point blank range. Besides being the 200th career victory for Holtby, it was also his fifth win in a row, and made him the second-fastest to reach the 200-win milestone, behind only Ken Dryden.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America
Other Accounts on Win #200
Washington Post Game Account #1
Washington Post Game Account #2
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Shutouts against Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018 Eastern Conference Finals – May 21 and May 23, 2018
Prior to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Holtby had not performed as well by his normal standards during the regular season, as he posted a 34-16-4 record, a Goals-Against Average of 2.99, and a Save Percentage of .907. Due to his struggles, then-Head Coach Barry Trotz decided to start backup Philipp Grubauer in goal for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, as Grubauer himself struggled in goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, Holtby was tabbed as his replacement in Game 2 and was the starter for the remainder of the playoffs as they came back to take the opening round series against Columbus and defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won the first two games but dropped the next three, putting them behind in the series 3-2 and one loss away from elimination. However, Holtby stepped up to the plate to give his team a chance.
The Caps won Game 6 by a 3-0 score on goals by T.J. Oshie, Devante Smith-Pelly, and an empty-net goal for the third goal. Holtby recorded the shutout against Tampa Bay after a regular season in which he had recorded no shutouts. The Caps’ victory set up a Game 7 in Tampa Bay.
In Game 7, Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring in the first period, while forward Andre Burakovsky scored two goals in the second period to improve the score to 3-0. Nicklas Backstrom added an empty-net goal to make it 4-0, backed by a strong performance in net by Holtby. As a result of winning Game 7 against Tampa Bay, the Caps advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for only the second time in franchise history.
Getty Images North America
The play known as “The Save” happened in the second game of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals between the first-year Vegas Golden Knights and the Capitals. Already down in the series, 1-0, the Caps had pulled ahead to a 3-2 lead after two periods. However, the Golden Knights were doing their utmost to mount a comeback. The Capitals soon found themselves having to kill off a 5-on-3 power play situation midway through the period. With just two minutes left in regulation, Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch shot the puck toward a wide open net after receiving a pass through the slot. However, Holtby moved towards the opening and made the save with the paddle of his goalie stick. As the game was called, NBC Sports Network analyst Pierre McGuire declared the play would be known as “The Save” in Capitals lore. The final score was 3-2, tying the series at 1-1. The Caps went onto win the next two games of the series at home and then returned to Vegas for Game 5 which they won to clinch their first Stanley Cup championship, immortalizing Holtby’s spectacular denial forever.
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Holtby Gets Win #250 – March 6, 2019
On March 6, the Caps played against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center in a game in which the Capitals had accumulated a 5-0 lead before the second period was over, but had given up a goal with seconds to go in the period. They gave up two more goals during the third period but hung on to win 5-3. By doing so, Holtby recorded his 250th career win by recording 27 saves and becoming the second-fastest goaltender in NHL history to reach the mark (409th career game), behind only Ken Dryden (381 career games). The win brought Holtby’s win total for the 2018-19 regular season to 25 and his overall record to 25-16-4.
Tom Mihalik/Associated Press
Holtby Ties Franchise Record for Career Shutouts – March 8, 2019
Just two days after becoming the second-fastest goaltender to reach 250 career victories, Holtby reached another milestone against the New Jersey Devils. Recording 25 saves in a 3-0 decision, Holtby recorded his third shutout of the 2018-19 regular season season and the 35th of his career, tying him with Olaf Kolzig for the most in Capitals franchise history. He had recorded his 35 shutouts in 409 career games played, while Kolzig had done so in 719 games played with the Capitals. By winning, Holtby improved his record to 26-16-4 on the season.
During his career with the Washington Capitals, Holtby played in 468 regular season games, starting 458 of them. In these games he posted a 282-122-46 regular season record, a 2.53 Goals-Against Average, a .916 Save Percentage, and 35 shutouts. in 97 playoff games (96 starts) playoffs, he posted a 50-46-1 record, with a Goals-Against Average of 2.13, and Save Percentage of .926, and recorded seven shutouts. He will also be fondly remembered for his deeds off the ice, too, such as partaking in numerous charity initiatives and events in the Washington community, and annually participating in the Washington D.C. Pride Parade.
By Diane Doyle
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